Friday, January 18, 2013

Performance reviews

Today's topic is that of the 'self appraisal.'  While this typically would apply to those of you that are not self employed (i.e. working for others), the idea of performing a self-appraisal for the self-employed is not out of the question. In fact, I have to think its a rather good idea.  Today's blog refers to my day job, not my quilting life.

I recently passed the 11+ year mark at my day job.  This means that essentially, I have been having to do a self assessment at least twice a year for the last decade.  I often look upon this task with dread, because I never know where to rate myself.  During this time frame I have had no less than 13 different bosses.  At my company, bosses come and bosses go, because we re-organize frequently.  During at least 6 of those years, I myself have been a manager and had to do both self assessments as well as employee appraisals for my direct reports. 

I would like to thank my favorite amongst all of those former managers, a man who taught me an important lesson in self appraisals, goal setting and the entire review process.   Thanks Ian!  While I was managing people, I passed this lesson along to all of my own staff because I felt it was important to teach this to them and help to mentor them along in their careers.  Some of them got it, others did not.  The ones that did have done fairly well in their careers since.  So here it goes.

You are responsible for your own destiny.  It is your responsibility to make sure that your goals are well documented and the various components of those goals are clearly defined so that you know exactly what you need to accomplish in order to garner each level of success for each goal.  It is your own responsibility to ensure that you meet these goals and document the successful measurements that you accomplish.  If you do this all year long, then the task at mid point and year end are easy.  You just need to provide a summary to your manager.  It is not your managers job to point out what you did and didn't accomplish.  Document it, its there for them and its hard to dispute if its true.  If you are looking to get promoted, then ensure that you have included all of the justification in the appraisal that would support promotional consideration.  This is where you give your boss the ammunition to fight for your movement up the ladder.

I am amazed at the number of people that cannot grasp this basic concept.  If you are successful in your accomplishments and you meet, exceed or completely surpass your goals wiht flying colors, it should be pretty easy to write about them and provide this to your manager when review time comes around.  If there is ever a question about how well you are doing or if you are approaching a task correctly in order to meet the requirement, you should be asking your manager at that point. Engage them in a 1:1 discussion.  They will be happy to make the time to coach you and discuss and clarify the matter at hand.  Do not wait until review time!

I have worked for mediocre bosses who barely spoke to me all year long, never told me whether I was doing well or not, and then at the time of review, year end, gave me a much lower rating than I would have expected based on my self assessment and my accomplishments for the year.  I actually had one person tell me that he considered me just average because his expectations of his staff were higher than most people.  "What a crock!" I thought, and he forever endeared himself to me in that very moment onwards.

One of the worst VPs I ever knew, rated me poorly in one area because she just didn't like me. She hadn't been straight with me and told me this, but in hindsight sometimes her behavior towards me demonstrated otherwise.  When I set up a meeting with her to discuss it and to try and find out the reason for the 'needs improvement' rating in this one area, she copped out of the face to face meeting and did it over the phone instead as she was driving home. I was shocked at what she shared with me as her view of my behavior and the underlying basis of that opinion.  When I politely asked her to give me a real example to support this, she admitted she was unable to do so. What she told me was "well its probably unfair because it happened before I ever joined (our company)" and then she mentioned a situation from years ago with a former employee.  I agreed with her statement that it was unfair and I requested her to change the rating because (1) the complaint was not relevant to the rating period we were discussing, (2) she had never brought it to my attention so we could discuss and take corrective action if needed, and (3) it was based on here say and not actual facts.  She refused to change the rating and much to my delight, was subsequently fired within the next 2 weeks. 

A good boss will attempt to engage you when they identify a problem, and not wait until year end to present it in your appraisal.  However, not all bosses are created equal.  Some are great mentors, managers, enablers and communicators.  Some are better at self promotion and managing upwards than downwards.  And some have no people or managerial skills, but they somehow still become managers.  But its up to you to be sure that you understand what their expectations are for successfully completing a goal and if you want to exceed their expectations, understanding what that would encompass.  A great boss will go to bat for you, even in the worst situation or when circumstances are out of your control.  I am very lucky to have a boss like this now.

So, now as I am working on my 2012 self appraisal, I realize that I have not followed my own advice.  I forgot to ensure that my goals were changed when my job function changed and middle management did a doe-see-doe around the office.  The goals in the HR system do not even closely reflect the work I am undertaking.  I know I am working on the right things, its just the HR system is out of date.  What is written there is what we thought I would be doing two managers ago.  So now I am working on revising them, getting them approved by my VP and then doing my self appraisal against the goals that I should have already revised in the system.

Don't let this happen to you.   You have to watch out for #1 because there is no guarantee that anyone else is going to do this for you, no matter how talented or successful you are in reaching or exceeding your goals.  I also believe that all of us should also undertake a personal self-assessment once a year or so.  Did you accomplish last year what you set out to do?  Are you where you thought you would be with the new year?  What did you accomplish?  What didn't you get to?  Are those things still important or relevant to your current situation?  What needs to change to ensure you do get what you want or at least what you need in 2013?  Set your goals, right them down and check your progress on achieving them from time to time.  That way, you won't be disappointed in the future.  You will be in control of your destiny.  You may even surprise yourself!

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